OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A high-profile Oklahoma attorney is asking the state Supreme Court to stop the special election for Oklahoma’s open U.S. Senate seat, arguing the U.S. Constitution does not allow a special election to fill the post until it’s vacant.
Enid attorney Stephen Jones, who gained national prominence as the attorney for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, filed the lawsuit late Monday.
Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, 87, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced last month that he plans to resign in January, just two years into his six-year term. He submitted an “irrevocable pledge” to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office on Feb. 28, triggering a new state law that allows the governor to set special election dates that coincide with Oklahoma’s regularly scheduled primary, runoff and general election dates. Gov. Kevin Stitt set the special election dates on March 1.
But Jones argues in his lawsuit that the governor lacked the authority to do so because Inhofe hasn’t vacated the office yet. He wants the state Supreme Court to direct the Oklahoma Election Board not to accept declarations of candidacy for the office or print ballots for the contest. The lawsuit contends the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits such an election until there is a vacancy and that the governor should appoint a replacement for Inhofe after he officially vacates the office next year.
Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax, who is the defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Ziriax will be represented by the Office of the Attorney General. A spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said the office will respond in a brief once the court sets a briefing schedule.
Inhofe’s announcement has already triggered a series of political dominoes as politicians eyed a potential move to higher office. U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin already announced he’s leaving his 2nd Congressional District seat to run. Other Republican candidates include state Sen. Nathan Dahm and Inhofe’s former chief of staff, Luke Holland. Among potential Democratic candidates are former U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, who won the 5th Congressional District seat in one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 midterm elections, before Republicans captured the seat back in 2020.
Mullin’s decision also led to a flurry of announcements by Republicans for his seat that covers most of eastern Oklahoma, including Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman and former state Rep. John Bennett; state Sen. Marty Quinn, of Claremore; Muskogee pharmacist Chris Schiller; and Army veteran Erick Wyatt.